Techniques & Materials

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"What are the birds made of?"

This is the number one most frequently asked question at all Beth's exhibitions!

Every step in the creation of these miniature works of art is performed by Beth alone - no one else is involved. Below is an explanation of the careful and intricate process she follows:

Research of bird species is an extensive and ongoing process. A variety of references is consulted, including life, books, videos, photographs and study skins.

The focal point of each composition, the tiny bird sculpture, begins with the sculpting of the original in a synthetic, oven-fired modelling clay. The only tools used at this stage, beside the fingertips, are a glass-headed pin, a scalpel and sandpaper.

A mould is made from the original sculpture using silicone moulding rubber, and a mould box. An industrial-strength vacuum chamber is used to extract air from the silicone before it sets.

After 24 hours the silicone is set, and the simple, one-piece mould can be cut open on one side, releasing the original sculpture, which is often broken in the process!

Many of the bird designs require more than one mould for the different parts, particularly for legs, which require wire inserts for support.

For the individual casts, polyester casting resin is used. The moulds are hand-packed, though some designs require the vacuum pump yet again, to remove air bubbles from the extremities. Once set, the mould is opened to reveal a replica of the original sculpture.

The castings now have to be "cleaned up" with a dentist's drill, carefully removing all "flash" left by the casting process. Each piece is carefully sanded before the painting begins.

The painting is an intense and time-consuming process, for which accurate references are needed. The paint used is Jo Sonja's Acrylic Gouache, chosen for its quality, light-fast colours and excellent opacity.

The bird sculptures are then mounted on their perches i.e. branches, stones, reeds, fence-posts etc. The composition can now be assembled in the 2 cm (3/4") deep wooden box that fits behind the picture frame. The various components are attached using the dentist's drill, wire and epoxy.

The finer details of the compositions (flowers, leaves, insects etc.) are painstakingly produced from paper, fine wire, fibre and tiny sections of insect wings.

The background scene in some of the compositions is a simple monochrome water colour sketch, designed to place the subject in context.